Football: Liverpool control fate after emphatic rout

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge rounding West Ham goalkeeper Adrian to score the opening goal yesterday. It was the Englishman's first goal in 12 matches, as Reds manager Jurgen Klopp handed him a rare start.
Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge rounding West Ham goalkeeper Adrian to score the opening goal yesterday. It was the Englishman's first goal in 12 matches, as Reds manager Jurgen Klopp handed him a rare start.PHOTO: REUTERS

Win over Hammers means Liverpool need only beat Boro to enter Champions League

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

West Ham 0

Liverpool 4

Desperate times seemed to call for desperate measures. Arsenal's sudden surge towards the top four had placed Liverpool in peril.

Already without Sadio Mane, Jurgen Klopp was then deprived of Roberto Firmino against West Ham. The German did something he rarely seems to even consider. He abandoned his beloved 4-3-3, then started with Daniel Sturridge.

The striker began a league game for the first time in 132 days. Yet his inclusion, and Klopp's rethink, revived Liverpool. They recorded their biggest win of 2017, made a potentially tough trip to the London Stadium a rout and kept their fate in their own hands.

Beat Middlesbrough in their final league match on Sunday and they will be Champions League qualifiers, whatever Arsene Wenger's side do.

If Sturridge was chosen out of desperation, events made it appear inspired. Klopp has been criticised for lacking a Plan B. Yesterday he produced one from the start, fielding twin strikers ahead of a midfield diamond.

Both of those strikers, Sturridge and Divock Origi, scored. The jewel in the diamond, Philippe Coutinho, recorded a quickfire brace after he created Sturridge's opener.

The Englishman does not suit Klopp's ethos or his style of play. He cannot press with the fervour of Firmino. But he can score, and he did, perhaps for the last time in a Liverpool shirt.

Coutinho played in a deeper midfield role where his future may lie. He showed his skills as a schemer, collecting the ball within his own half, playing a defence-splitting pass to release Sturridge.

The forward kept his composure, strolling past West Ham goalkeeper Adrian to slot the ball into the unguarded net. It was his first goal in 12 games.

Coutinho took his league tally to 12 with a double of idiosyncratic brilliance, both set up, albeit inadvertently by Georginio Wijnaldum.

He latched on to the rebound after the Dutchman rattled the bar but, rather than shooting straight away, embarked on a mazy dribble before finding the bottom corner of the net.

Then West Ham, still aggrieved that Wijnaldum did not concede a penalty at one end, were further irritated when Coutinho scored seconds later at the other. It added controversy, but Liverpool were emphatic and excellent in their dominance.

Origi bundled in a fourth. He had been one of those denied when Adrian made a triple save inside 30 seconds. He had also thundered a shot onto the woodwork. Joel Matip, who kept meeting Coutinho's corners, also hit the bar with a header.

Set pieces often threaten to undermine Liverpool, and they almost did again when they missed Manuel Lanzini's corner and Andre Ayew contrived to prod two shots against the post as half-time approached.

He was so close they almost qualified as open goals. It counted as a major reprieve. Liverpool made the most of it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2017, with the headline 'Reds control fate after emphatic rout'. Print Edition | Subscribe